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Darwin Correspondence Project

From David Wedderburn   6 April 1871

Meredith | Gloucester

6th. April 1871.


As a humble disciple, and one of the early converts to “Darwinism”, I venture to send you one or two observations, which I have recently made, of no great importance certainly, but bearing in some measure upon “sexual selection”.

When deer-stalking in Sutherland1 last autumn I came upon a herd of deer, consisting of about twenty hinds and calves, one large stag, and two small ones, who were “kept out”, (as the keeper called it) by the big one. While watching them with the telescope we observed another stag, nearly as large as the first, accompanied by three hinds, descending a steep hill at a smart trot, and making for the herd. As he approached he was challenged successively by the two young stags, neither venturing to cross horns with him, and he advanced slowly and cautiously on the old fellow, who left the herd, and came to meet him. I expected a severe fight, but the invader’s heart failed him, when quite close, and he retreated in company with the two young stags. The old fellow at once galloped up to the three hinds, who had stood at a little distance looking on, and drove them into his own herd, a proceeding in which they seemed willingly to acquiesce.

The females in fact appeared to accept as a matter of course the male, who was admitted to be the strongest.2

I observe that in speaking of blackgame you say that you have no information as to their holding “leks” in Scotland, as they do in Sweden and elsewhere.3 In Selkirkshire I have seen large numbers of blackcocks, in May, holding a regular “lek” on the grassy “haughs” by the river side.4 Although at a distance it seemed as if blackcocks only were present, no doubt the grey-hens were not far off, their size and colour of course rendering them inconspicuous. In stalking a flock of these birds one is often not aware that there are any hens there, until quite close to them.

At page 170. Vol II. of the “Descent of Man” it is stated that the Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa Grisola, “builds in holes”.5 Now I have frequently found the nest of this bird, but never in a hole, and I cannot help thinking that it should not be so described. I have generally found the nest in fruit-trees trained upon a wall, and so constructed as to be only half a nest pressed close against the wall. I have also found it stuck in a similar way against the trunk of an elm-tree. This point is perhaps hardly worth mentioning, but I trust that you will pardon my doing so, and my troubling you with this letter.

I remain, Sir, | Your obedient servant | David Wedderburn

CD annotations

1.1 As … selection”. 1.3] crossed pencil
4.2 In Selkirkshire … side. 4.4] double scored blue crayon
On envelope: ‘Good case of courtship of Stags [‘s’ blue crayon overink]’ ink, del pencil; ‘Leks [‘e’ blue crayon over ink] of Blackcock’ ink; ‘Nest of fly-catcher by no means always in Holes.’ ink, del pencil; ‘Blackcock | Nest’ blue crayon


Wedderburn rented a hunting lodge at Rhifail, Sutherland (a county in the Highlands of Scotland) in 1870. The keeper has not been identified. Wedderburn was probably hunting with Claudius William Bell and William Edwin Price (Wedderburn 1884, p. 128).
CD discussed stags’ fighting in Descent 2: 240.
Descent 2: 103.
CD added this anecdote to Descent 2d ed., p. 407.
Muscicapa grisola is now Muscicapa striata.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Wedderburn, David. 1884. Life of Sir David Wedderburn. Edited by Louisa Jane Percival. London: K. Paul, Trench & co.


Sexual selection in deer.

Assemblies of black cocks.

Nests of spotted flycatcher.

Letter details

Letter no.
David Wedderburn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 88: 163, 167–9
Physical description
6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7660,” accessed on 21 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19